Nebraska Supreme Court Tosses Inmate’s Claim of Negligence, Riot Injuries

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Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.

Plaintiff John Wizinsky says both his PTSD and diabetes got worse after the riot.

The Nebraska Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal from an inmate who tried to sue the state for injuries sustained in a prison riot.

The Star Herald reports that the lawsuit was brought by John Wizinsky, a former inmate of Tecumseh State Prison. When Wizinsky was incarcerated in Tecumseh in 2015, he was caught in the middle of a massive riot that turned several residential units upside down and killed two inmates.

In his lawsuit, Wizinsky said he already suffered from both diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During the uprising itself, Wizinsky was unable to get or request additional insulin. He was also hit in the head during hand-to-hand combat between inmates.

According to Wizinsky’s lawsuit, first filed in late 2018, he was in protective custody or PC at the time of the uprising.

“When there is an uprising, the PCs are killed first,” Wizinsky said in court. “I was very specific [with the other PC inmates] […] If we don’t stick together, we’ll all die. “

At one point, inmates from the general population managed to break through the protective custody unit. One man was almost beaten to death in retaliation for testifying against another prisoner. Wizinsky said he managed to pull the injured inmate away but was hit in the back of the head.

Image via Rennett Stowe / Flickr / Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-2.0)

The riot, Wizinsky said, caused him physical harm, exacerbated his diabetes and PTSD, and continued to adversely affect his life.

However, Wizinsky’s lawsuit was previously dismissed by a Lancaster County judge. And late last week, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

The ruling, The Star Herald adds, cites Nebraska’s sovereign immunity law, which protects most government agencies from civil litigation.

While the state can still be sued in certain limited circumstances – for example, when a government agency or official makes discretionary decisions that are outside of their normal duties, obligations, or guidelines.

However, in its ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court found that Wizinsky’s lawsuit was not up to standard.

“The chaotic circumstances of a riot,” wrote the judges, “are [sic] A classic example of an activity that requires discretion. “

The Star Herald notes that a prison security expert previously testified that the Tecumseh State Prison was in line with the Department of Corrections and state expectations: it had a functional plan to respond to and contain riots, and it was adequately staffed.

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